Senate inquiry eyed on franchise violations

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    SEN. Grace Poe wants an investigation into franchise violations allegedly committed by television network ABS-CBN,which is facing a quo warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General.

    Poe said the Senate committee on public services that she chairs is part of the Senate’s oversight function over any franchise and not just ABS-CBN, as mandated by the Constitution and the Senate Rules.

    “Due to the gravity of the allegations and its possible effects, the committee has deemed it appropriate to lay the groundwork for a possible inquiry in the spirit of public interest,” said who filed Resolution No. 332 seeking the inquiry.

    “The discussion in the Senate does not preclude any action in the House of Representatives or the Supreme Court,” she said.

    Solicitor General Jose Calida on Monday filed the quo warranto petition asking the Supreme Court to revoke the 25-year franchise granted by Congress to the network and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc., because of “highly-abusive practices.”

    ABS-CBN has said it did not violate any law.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III said an inquiry will give ABS-CBN a chance to better explain its side on Calida’s allegations and the Senate a better chance to decide on the franchise renewal bid of ABS-CBN once it reaches the chamber.

    Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said he supports Poe’s resolution.

    “Congress, not the Supreme Court, is the body that has jurisdiction to review compliance by ABS-CBN of the terms of the franchise granted by Congress, especially that there are pending bills seeking renewal of the franchise. The Senate, under the Poe resolution, is simply being called to exercise its oversight functions. The hearings on the Poe resolution will enable the Senate make a judgment on the proposed renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise when it is transmitted by the House,” Drilon said.

    Drilon said there will be no sub judice because the Senate will only exercise its oversight function in holding the hearing.

    Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said there is “much ado” about the ABS-CBN franchise issue. “The filing of the petition is a much ado about nothing with respect to the opposition because if the quo warranto succeeds, then all ABS-CBN can do is to apply for a new franchise. There’s nothing that would prevent them from applying again for a new franchise. Because you must remember that it is supposed to expire on the 30th, if I’m not mistaken on March, and even members of the Congress are saying that that can be extended up to June-something,” he said.

    The 25-year franchise expires on March 30.

    Congress leaders have said ABS-CBN can continue operating until 2022, when the 18th Congress ends, because bills seeking a franchise renewal are still pending.

    Panelo maintained Malacañang had nothing to do with the filing of the quo warranto petition which he said is an “independent move” by Calida.

    He reiterated that while Duterte has been criticizing ABS-CBN, the President’s tirades are his personal expression of his displeasure after the network failed to air his paid campaign advertisement.

    On Wednesday night, the President said that while the Constitution guarantees press freedom, his administration would not tolerate any abuse of the broadcast privilege given of to media groups in the country.

    Duterte also reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to uphold “the equal protection of your rights and your safety in the performance of duties.” – With Jocelyn Montemayor